The Police Department is deploying another tool to deal with bad behavior and crime in city parks: its police cadets.
The cadets – 18- to 25-year-olds who work part time while attending school – work in pairs and patrol parks in cars and on foot. They also patrol the Virginia Corridor, the paved trail popular with walkers, joggers and bicyclists.
Lt. Steve Stanfield said the cadets always have patrolled parks as part of their duties but said the patrols have increased recently with the reassignment of the cadets to him and Lt. Rigo DeAlba. The two oversee the department’s four area commands, which emphasize community policing.
Stanfield said the 15 cadets spend about a third of the 300 hours they work collectively each week checking parks and the corridor. He said parks that draw a lot of complaints and a lot of crime get the most attention. Those includes Graceada, Enslen, Beard Brook and Moose.
The cadets are in uniform but do not have guns and cannot arrest anyone. They have police radios and are trained to call for officers if they witness a crime. Stanfield said that has not happened, but the cadets have called after someone reported a crime to them. He said the cadets serve as goodwill ambassadors and engage with the people they meet, and their presence deters bad behavior.
Police Chief Galen Carroll said his department is working on a proposal to reclassify some of the police cadets as park rangers and allow them to issue citations for minor offenses. He said the proposal could come to the City Council for consideration in a couple of months.
Carroll said complaints about drinking, drug use, vandalism and other bad behavior in parks are among the top complaints his department receives. He said residents want more enforcement, but he does not have enough officers. And residents complain about the homeless who live in the parks, though Modesto does not have enough emergency shelter beds to house all of them.
Cadets Jared Halderman, 19, and Steven DiGiorno, 24, patrolled Graceada and Enslen on foot Tuesday morning before checking the Virginia Corridor in their police car. After greeting the homeless gathered at the Graceada Park pavilion, they asked them to pick up their food wrappers and other litter. They also asked a homeless couple sleeping along a building wall to move so park workers could enter nearby storage rooms.
DiGiorno attends the police academy and expects to graduate in October. He said the patrols let him interact with a range of people, from kids playing baseball to the homeless, and is good training for his career as a police officer.
The patrols drew praise from Cindy Brown as she walked Tuesday along the Virginia Corridor with a friend. Brown likened the patrols to Neighborhood Watch. “It’s just more eyes,” she said. “I like that.”
Brown said the patrols might help the homeless in the city’s parks. “It would make sure they are safe,” she said, “because they have no other place to go.”
Tina Barber, a 40-year-old homeless woman, also likes the patrols. She teased Halderman because of his youth as he and DiGiorno checked on her and other homeless people at Enslen Park. “These guys are good,” she said. “They look like they are learning.”
Barber had less kind works for some of Modesto’s veteran officers. She said they have treated her with disrespect, including one laughing at her while she was being arrested and another telling her on another occasion that she should leave Modesto. Barber said she was born here.
Kevin Valine: 209-578-2316